Leonica Kei has been associated with Philip Kingsley for a long time. She introduced the brand to Singapore in the late 1990s, using its range of products as she administered trichological treatments.
A graduate of the Institute of Trichologists (UK), and an affiliate member of the Institute, Kei had few resources to work with when she returned to Singapore to practice her profession. Working with a brand with some renown in this part of the world helped her mission to introduce trichology to a public that, until then, sought remedies to persistent and serious problems in hair salons or dermatology clinics.
Her business arrangement with Philip Kingsley, however, limited her options. She was encountering problems that required remedies beyond the Philip Kingsley range, and as someone who is educated in trichology, she was certain that she needed new formulations. Climate, DNA, habits, diet, stressors, etc. – there was a long list of factors in Kei’s estimation that differentiated her predominantly Asian clients from the rest.
Moreover, carrying an established brand placed an added load on her young venture. She had to use the products exclusively and promote them to the public – both of which required additional investments on top of maintaining her treatment center, paying rent and staff, and other expenses associated with running a business.
Kei had the option of entering into a joint venture with the brand, but as she considered her position, it became clear that starting her own would be the better one. By then, steadfast clients from all over Asia knew her name, and have developed confidence in her methods. People were already traveling frequently and had easier access to any international product range. Her USP no longer resided in representing an international brand. If she has return customers, they came to see her. She has essentially grown into the brand behind the label.
Kei began building the Leonica K brand sometime in the second half of 2000, starting with exploring the creation of exclusive trichology products. She contacted the Institute for referrals to a consultant she could work with and was introduced to a one who has developed a product especially for Southeast Asia. Kei flew to London to work on her product formulations, armed with extensive experience with Asian clients and first-hand knowledge of what works and what does not in her market.
Kei was keen on developing plant-based products for their natural chemical contents and gentler effect on the hair and scalp, and the laboratory was receptive to her ideas of developing botanical formulations. An agreement was reached – including a testing period of a couple of years. It was for the long haul.
With her trial range finally developed, she began introducing them to clients as alternative formulations. She informed them of the existence of her range, explained how they were different and why they are effective. “It was a long and tedious process of education,” she recalls, “but some of our regular clients immediately took to the new products. Others took longer to persuade, but we won them over eventually.”
Kei has since brought her formulation back to Singapore, where she currently works with a local laboratory. This means improved speed in many aspects, from testing new formulations to developing new products and bringing them to the market. There is also an economic benefit that is realized from working in one’s backyard. “We can price our products better so that more people can benefit from them,” Kei says.
She broke new grounds when she introduced trichology in Singapore. The early part of her brand building was expectedly difficult; people were more familiar with hair spas and didn’t immediately grasp the concept of trichology. Moreover, some were unsure if the condition they had needed medical attention instead of trichological treatments.
For these, Kei worked on a media plan. She invested in media advertorials and events partnerships. She sent out product samples to the press and potential partners, and tirelessly gave interviews. Her primary aim was public education. When the time came for her to build a website, she put informative pieces about trichology and its objectives above pushing her products. “I need to provide information first, the product and the offers come second.”
Whenever she finds an opportunity, she discussed hair loss for women and men, spot baldness, scalp disorders, and hair loss associated with childbirth. She explained the causes and the range of available remedies, pointing out that healthy hair and scalp are indicators of good health, and conversely, hair and scalp problems can be caused by internal or topical factors — from hormonal imbalances to stress, nutritional deficiencies, illnesses, hygiene, or simple prolonged and frequent exposure to the elements. Healthy – or unhealthy - hair and scalp are not always isolated cases, she explains. Besides achieving results that are ‘aesthetic’, trichology can uncover related and underlying problems as the superficial ones are addressed.
Public education has paid the Leonica K brand handsomely. People have started looking at their hair and scalp problems from a different point of view. A scientific option that restores both health and beauty has become accessible to them. Trichology, if not solely Leonica K, has become a viable solution to a problem.
Today, Kei is growing her business alongside her public awareness initiatives. She is in an ideal place where she can discuss problems and treatments, as well as the Leonica K products and services. She has developed new product ranges, including those for motherand- child, and even pets. At the beginning of the pandemic, she developed a special hand sanitizer to give away to hospitals and frontliners – a community service effort that she eventually developed into a staple product line.
Clients can access her products online – both on her dedicated platform and through e-commerce partners, avail of her treatments at her Palais Renaissance trichology center, and engage with her on social media where she often gives ‘chats’ – she refuses to call them lectures – on hair and scalp health.
She has recently changed the labels on her products to include bar codes for wider commercial distribution. Handheld (hair) products and home kits occupy her mind; she is not done developing new products and services. “It’s not in my nature to sit around doing nothing,” she says. “There is the business to attend to and grow, but there are also people to help."